Going into Freshman year, I knew that I wanted to join a lab and start to do research, but had no clue on where I should start. I talked to my Honors Biology professor and the course TA, and they both suggested cold emailing professors that work in the Department of Biological Sciences and the labs in the School of Medicine. I cold emailed about five principal investigators, and to my surprise I got a response! That email was from my current PI, who set up a Zoom meeting where we discussed the goals of the lab and what I could expect as an undergraduate with no experience. At the time, I did not know much about the main focus of the lab, which was phosphoinositides-all I knew was the few parts of the few publications that the lab put out. However, I was willing to learn about the research as well as the lab procedures and protocols that are required for experimentation. A few weeks later, I started working at the lab-first by watching experiments, but soon after starting to do easier ones by myself.
If someone wants to get a start in research, I would say start by first identifying an area that you are interested in, then go and ask your professor(s) if they know of any labs that may have an opening. If you still do not have any leads, do not be afraid to cold email labs! I was lucky enough that it only took about five emails, but many of my friends had to email 10 or more. You can look on Pitt’s faculty directory and the specialized department websites, like the Department of Cell Biology. There are a plethora of ways to get involved in research as well. Research encompasses more fields than you would initially think, from biology to history and languages. There are also labs where you do not do experiments in the normal sense-called dry labs-and it definitely counts as doing research.
In my future, I am interested in pursuing either an MD or MD/PhD, and both are very science heavy paths. I have always wanted to do research as part of my career, so learning as much as I can about research methods and techniques as an undergraduate will help me be successful in the future. Skills such as being able to read literature and finding the important details and figuring out a problem in an experiment are not only just important for research: these are also life skills that can apply to a wide variety of careers.